When Michael Shannon performed a certain scene in the new literary drama A Little White Lie, director Michael Maren says he watched every cast and crew member in the room’s jaws drop.
The literary drama stars Shannon as Shriver, a handyman who gets mistaken for a famously reclusive writer and dragged, reluctantly, to a writer’s conference by small-town university professor Simone Cleary (Hudson). But Shriver soon begins to wonder whether his imposter syndrome is real or imagined.
Based on the novel Shriver by Chris Belden, A Little White Lie screened on Friday night at the Newport Beach Film Festival, where Maren gave a Q&A afterward.
Although he wouldn’t call Shannon a method actor, Maren said the Shape of Water star “did stay largely in character through a lot of it, which was not easy to deal with,” he joked.
“I love the scene where he’s reading from the book,” Maren added. “As Mike was reading, he seduced the crew, he seduced everybody — just kind of jaws dropping. And everybody just shut up and listened to him.”
To give Shannon some inspiration for his character’s feelings in the scene — which finds Shriver reading an excerpt from a novel that he’s not entirely sure he actually wrote — Maren told him a story about his own experience as a writer.
“I took a little walk with him before we shot it, and I said, I just want to tell you a story. And the story is that I was a journalist for many years, and I wrote for The Village Voice and other places. And I said, I was reading an article once in The Village Voice about this human rights thing — something I used to write a lot about — and suddenly, I felt in the middle of the article that I was slipping on ice,” Maren said.
“I realized at that point that, Oh, someone had plagiarized something I had written a long time ago. And it wasn’t the words necessarily or anything like that, it’s just that every writer has their own rhythms and their own way of writing things. I said, when Shriver starts to read, he suddenly comes into himself, and suddenly the words feel very natural.”
A Little White Lie will have a wide release in early 2023.
Main Image: Michael Shannon and M. Emmet Walsh in A Little White Lie